What HR professionals think about Personnel Today’s 360-degree Appraisal of HR

The findings from Personnel Today’s exclusive 360-degree Appraisal for HR research received feedback from a number of leading HR professionals. Here is a selection of their views:

Deborah O’Dea, president, Health People Management Association and HR director, St Mary’s NHS Trust

“It is likely that these findings could be generated for any organisational function by asking those outside and within the function how they rate effectiveness. Given the nature of HR management, the HR department is unlikely to be highly popular. Dealing with disputes, controlling pay policy, recruitment, managing change, etc – all of which may cause some discomfort to staff but offer the potential for organisational performance to improve.

“There is a danger of scapegoating line managers as obstacles to effective implementation of HR practices. HR and line managers need to co-operate in order to ensure the most successful implementation of HR practices for the benefit of staff.”

Stephen Moir, HR director, Cambridgeshire County Council

“My HR function is very self-aware and publishes annual service plans to demonstrate what activities it will achieve in a 12-month period. The HR function also undertakes annual benchmarking to determine cost and efficiency of HR delivery and is considered top quartile in respect of key performance indicators and bottom quartile in respect of cost of service delivery (against both large public and large private sector organisations). Annual customer ‘health checks’ are undertaken with other senior colleagues to ensure that the services being delivered are at the standard and quality expected and as agreed in the annual service plans.

“However, being professional and offering low cost services doesn’t mean that you will be liked by everyone. It is important that being effective and being liked are not mixed up in the minds of the survey respondents, or in the minds of HR people themselves.”

David Bornor, head of HR, The Children’s Mutual

“Whilst I run an HR function now, I have also been a line manager and led a union, sitting opposite HR professionals. My experience is that really successful HR teams are usually integrated into the business operations so that they work closely with other colleagues whatever the level. In this way each professional experiences the value of the other and mutual respect is earned.

“The other side of the coin is that HR people are often perceived as always saying ‘no’ or creating hurdles for business activities – which is a problem of communication style as much as anything. Business people always have an opinion about how HR should be run. In contrast HR people often lack interest in how business functions work. My advice – get your nose stuck in.”

Danny Kalman, HR director, Panasonic Europe

“HR needs to be more pro-active in promoting the function and clearly demonstrate not just by words but by our actions how it can ‘add value’. We will know when this is the case when we are invited to join key strategic meetings because our opinions are valued.”

Beth Aarons, group HR manager, City Inn

“The findings are disappointing; however it demonstrates that a strategic HR function – that is both visible and credible within the framework of the business – is extremely important in driving that business forward. A high profile HR department touches all the pressure points of the company and therefore will be seen as adding value and making a measurable difference to the success of the company.”

Cara Davani, group director, corporate services, Genesis Housing Group

“I think managers are quick to criticise HR when things go wrong and from my experience sometimes have unrealistic expectations about levels of service. A slick HR function is less likely to attract criticism. There is a big transition to be made from being a sound HR practitioner to leading a customer focused business activity. Some people don’t make it, or if they do, don’t get it right.

“HR needs to earn respect. It also needs to be supported by the top team. All management boards should have an HR professional around the table – this gives a very clear message. HR then needs a clear framework for how it is going to deliver the HR strategy which is flexible enough to adapt to the unexpected. It’s then about getting things done and making an impact.”

Alan Warner, corporate director (people and property), Hertfordshire County Council  

“HR is an overhead on the business; it has responsibilities for policy on things like pay and benefits, it operates in the sometimes messy areas of industrial relations, discipline and grievance and occasionally finds itself having to disagree with line managers. All that creates the potential for a scenario that might make HR people less than popular.

“Of course it matters what line managers think – ignore them at your peril. This must not however turn into a siege mentality or a resigned ‘whatever we do we’ll be wrong’ situation. Talk to the line, ask them what they want, try and craft a positive relationship. Never sit back and let the world just happen around you, make a demonstrable difference to the business and always be ready to prove it.”

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